They practice at Palolo Valley District Park nearly every day.
They are not, however, the Palolo Falcons. The Kalani Falcons are OIA Division II softball champions for the first time since 2010, and coach Kellen Hussey is not surprised.
“I feel good. Four years of hard work,” Hussey said after Kalani edged Aiea 4-3 in the title game on Saturday at Tiger Softball Stadium. “This is what we worked for. There’s nothing to talk about.”
Hussey was in the first-base coach’s box during the game, exhorting his batters about discipline. Patience.
“We want them to always stay in the moment,” he said. “And that’s what they did.”
The Lady Falcons came into the matchup with Aiea, a team they hadn’t played all season, with an idea or two, but not much more than that.
“We didn’t scout Aiea,” Hussey said. “We had a game against Kaimuki to focus on.”
Aiea hurler Kehaunani Arke was resilient, going the distance and walking just two batters.
“We expected to see a lot of change-ups,” Hussey said. “She saw it.”
She would be Kalani ace Cherise Horita, who also led off for the Falcons’ lineup. She smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the third to break the ice and finished 2-for-3 along with seven strikeouts and only one walk allowed for a complete-game, championship victory. Toni-Lynn Ibara (2-for-3, run) and Jazlyn Furuya (double, RBI) came up with key plays offensively.
“All year, she’s been tough (as a pitcher),” Hussey said. “But she’s our leadoff hitter because she’s the best hitter on the team. Any of our first five or six can hit it out.”
It took some time, though. It was a mind-blowing experience for the team, almost surreal. Horita said she wasn’t herself at the beginning of the game.
“Honestly, it was nerve-wracking. It was TV nerves,” she said, noting that Kalani hadn’t been on TV all season. “The dugout really helped. They make a huge difference, and all the fans and supporters.”
Horita’s formula included a lot of pitches away from Aiea’s power hitters.
“I tried to stay off the plate. Aiea’s a big hitting team,” she said. “But it’s also my defense. April (Kochi, first baseman) and Jalen (Nishihara, left fielder) made some big plays. They saved our team a lot of times. Eeron (Wong) in right field made the game-winning catch. And my catcher, Jaz.”
It was just enough to get past a determined Aiea squad, and now Kalani’s perfect season — 14-0 — gets put to the test at the DataHouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships on May 8.
“We’ll play our hardest. We have work ethic,” Horita said. “I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Last year’s D-II state champion was Aiea, now in D-I. A public school has won four of the last five D-II state titles, including three in a row by Nanakuli (2013-15). Nanakuli was moved into D-I following that run.
Kalani has never won a state softball title.